by the stormy present
Wed Jul 4th, 2007 at 07:15:36 AM EST
or, America, a stream-of-consciousness birthday wish from your wayward daughter
I always looked forward to the Fourth of July when I was a kid. My whole family would head down to the local park for the neighborhood fireworks display. We'd sit on a blanket, and I'd get to eat cotton candy and hot dogs and ice cream and all the other stuff that was normally forbidden. And most of all, the fireworks. I have this vivid memory of being about five, and so thrilled by them that I could hardly breathe. I kept turning to my mom and dad, Did you see that? Did you see that one? Oooooh... transfixed by the showers of color from the sky, the heart-thudding booms, the red-and-blue light flickering reflected on my parents' faces.
Now, Independence Day is a bittersweet holiday. Fireworks make me flinch; they sound like mortars. Most of my friends here, including (weirdly) not just Americans but Egyptians and Canadians and everywhereians, are all excited about the US Embassy Fourth of July party tonight, to be held in a grand old palace on the banks of the Nile. I have no idea why someone would want to go to this thing, but people have been after me for weeks to see if I'm invited, and maybe could I bring them as a guest?
Independence Day. Not what it once was. I've changed, but has America? Maybe that's the problem.
Fifty-one years ago, Allan Ginsberg wrote America. Sixty-some years ago, Billie Holiday sang Strange Fruit.
Just a few years ago, The Coup sang this:
Fifty-one years ago, Allan Ginsberg (who I had the honor of meeting briefly as a high-school student, for which I will forever be grateful to my 11th grade English teacher) wrote America:
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
And 49 years ago, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who I've written about before) wrote I am Waiting:
I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
Sixty-some years ago, Billie Holiday sang Strange Fruit, which began as a poem written 70 years ago by an American closet Communist, because even 70 years ago, you needed a closet in America for that.
Southern trees bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Today, The Coup is Not Yet Free.
That was before 9/11/2001, when Everything Changed. Before, not yet free.
Now: extraordinary renditions, torture, wiretapping, illegal invasions and occupations, presidential better-than-pardons for crony criminals, vice presidential puppetmasters apparently beyond the reach of the law...
Hurricane Katrina. A city, abandoned. A city, gone.
The planet is warming, the fish are dying, the oceans are rising and my 19-year-old nephew is sleeping next to his rifle in a tent in Diyala.
How could I possibly go to a palace on the Nile, in the land of the Pharaohs, and blithely celebrate the birth of my nation at a time like this?
Happy birthday, United States of America. Happy birthday, country of my birth.
Get well soon.